Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

A decade ago, a colleague invited me to collaborate on a project at the site of what was destined to become the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.  The site was within Settlers Cabin Park, one of Allegheny County's parks in the southwestern Pittsburgh suburbs near the airport.  The land had largely been strip mined for coal and then abandoned until it was purchased by the county for a future park.  Since mining ended, the scarred hillsides had naturally reforested, although the streams draining the area were still poisoned by acid mine drainage.  Our collaborative project was to evaluate the site for invasive, non-native plants, and to develop a management plan.  After we completed our report, I didn't hear anything else about the garden.

Two weeks ago, I delivered a talk about invasive plants to a joint meeting of the Village Garden Club/Garden Club of Allegheny County.  In speaking with the garden clubs' members, I asked about the status of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden - who better to know about progress on "my" project?  Few of the people with whom I spoke knew much, and I don't think any of the garden club members had ever visited the garden.  So, after my talk, I dragged Kali and our friend/host/former employee Rhonda out to the garden to look it over.  What follows are images I made there.
The attractive Visitor Center, used mostly for revenue-generating functions (e.g., weddings, etc.)
The garden is just getting off the ground.  The concept is in place and trails have been blazed, but the garden is in its earliest stages of development.  Most of the land is still covered in young woodlands and meadows, with trails cut through to provide access.  And, invasive plants are ubiquitous!  
Friend Rhonda under a pergola
Birdhouse in the goldenrod meadow
Kali and Rhonda in the goldenrod meadow
I liked this image because it looked very impressionistic
Backlit goldenrod
Backlit tuliptree leaf
A "folly" in the forest
Woodland trail
The garden administrators have decided to install environmental artwork throughout the trail network as an added attraction.  Most of the work is not of the highest caliber, and some is downright unappealing and shoddy (in my opinion).  However, the evocative wooden installation below was stunning.  (Ignore the bizarre thatched "tiki houses" in the background.)
We visited the garden during late afternoon, which illuminated the tops of the trees perfectly to capture autumn's glory.
The most highly developed section of the facility is the Oriental Garden.  Its central focus is a huge lily pond surrounded by a paved walkway.

Kali (left) and Rhonda on a boardwalk near the lily pond
Rhonda (left) and Kali on steppingstones crossing the upper end of the lily pond

The lily pond serves a dual purpose:  it is the aesthetic centerpiece of the Oriental Garden, and it is also an ingenious system to treat acid mine drainage in the stream that feeds the pond.  The garden received a significant environmental grant to create this treatment system.
At the end of our walk, we arrived at the eponymous "settlers' cabin," which has been lovingly and carefully restored.

We enjoyed a very pleasant late afternoon autumn stroll through the woods and fields, but the garden fells "raw" and has a long way to go before it becomes a real horticultural asset for the Pittsburgh area.  Maybe, by the next time that I'm invited to speak ten years hence, I can share more progress.

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